Luke 21

Luke 21:3

And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them;

This poor widow. Perhaps Jesus was not so much commenting about the widow’s generosity as he was marvelling at the rich who steal from the poor and “devour widows’ houses” (Matt. 23:14). The power of religion to enrich itself by stealing from the poorest of the poor was offensive to Jesus.

Further reading: “Jesus is your tithe

Luke 21:4

for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”

All she had to live on, meant she had nothing left to pay for food. First-century widows did not get welfare payments.

Luke 21:5

And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said,

The temple was the grandest building in Israel. See entry for Matt. 24:1.

Luke 21:6

“As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”

One stone. Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple complex. See entry for Matt. 24:2.

Luke 21:7

They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”

(a) They questioned Him. The disciples who questioned Jesus privately were Peter, James, John, and Andrew (Mark 13:3).

(b) When therefore will these things happen? The destruction of the temple (and Jerusalem) would be a catastrophic event heralding the end of Jewish civilization. The disciples naturally wanted to know when this would happen.

(c) What will be the sign? The disciples wanted to know what to look for and how to prepare for the coming destruction.

Luke 21:8

And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them.

(a) Many will come. Jesus predicted the emergence of false messiahs of which there were many in the first century. See entry for Matt. 24:4.

(b) Saying “I am he.” First-century false prophets went around saying, “I’m the Messiah come to deliver Israel.”

As the conflict between the Jews and the Romans intensified, there was an expectation that the Messiah would come and bring deliverance. “Don’t believe it,” said Jesus. “I will not be coming to deliver you or judge you or do anything in AD70. That’s why you need to flee” (see Luke 21:21).

(c) Do not go after them because you will die. In first-century Judea, false messiahs attracted followers with outrageous claims but most of them were slaughtered by the Romans.

Luke 21:9

“When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.”

(a) Wars; see entry for Matt. 24:6.

(b) The end does not follow immediately; see entry for Matt. 24:6.

Luke 21:10

Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom,

Nation will rise against nation. The decades following Christ’s death were possibly the most violent in history, at least as far as the Jews were concerned. Josephus wrote a book about it called The Wars of the Jews, and it records how the Jews and their Greek-speaking neighbors slaughtered each other. The Parthians, Samaritans, Syrians, and Egyptians all hated the Jews, and the Jews hated them back. It was nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom.

Luke 21:11

and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

(a) Great earthquakes; see entry for Matt. 24:7.

(b) Plagues. Tacitus, the Roman historian, records that a plague swept through Rome in AD65, filling the houses with dead “and the streets with funerals” (Annals). Shortly after the Romans besieged Jerusalem in AD70, the city suffered a pestilential destruction as a consequence of the confined masses. This outbreak of disease filled the streets with so many dead that those who went to battle with the Romans had to tread upon their bodies (Wars, 6.1.1).

(c) Famines; see entry for Matt. 24:7.

(d) Great signs from heaven. According to Josephus, numerous signs and prodigies were seen before and during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in AD70. These included: a star resembling a sword (possibly Halley’s Comet); a bright light that shone on the temple for half an hour one night; a cow that was about to be sacrificed gave birth to a lamb; the heavy eastern gate of the inner court opened by itself (it took 20 men to close it); and in the inner court a strange and ominous voice said, “Let us remove hence.” These were terrifying omens, but the most dramatic sign was the ethereal sight of armed soldiers and chariots “running about among the clouds” above the cities of Judea (Wars, 6.5.3).

Luke 21:12

“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.

(a) Persecute you, even to the point of death (see Luke 21:16).

(b) Synagogues and prisons; see entry for Mark 13:9.

(c) Before kings and governors; see entry for Mark 13:9.

Luke 21:13–14

“It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves;

(a) Testimony means evidence or report. The apostles would give eye-witness accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus to those in positions of power.

(b) Not to prepare; see entry for Mark 13:11.

Luke 21:15

for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.

When the disciples were brought before the authorities, the Holy Spirit told them what to say (Mark 13:11). Their inspired speeches were recorded in the scriptures for our edification (e.g., Acts 4:8–13).

Luke 21:16

“But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death,

Death. The disciples will be handed over to the authorities and executed. “They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you” (see entry for Matt. 24:9).

Luke 21:17

and you will be hated by all because of My name.

Hated by all or hated by all nations. “The Gentiles are going to hate you as much as the Jews hate you.” See entry for Matt. 24:9.

Luke 21:18

“Yet not a hair of your head will perish.

Not perish. You will have eternal life.

At first glance, this seems inconsistent with what Jesus said two verses earlier. “They will put some of you to death.” But the words for death and perish are different. To perish is to be eternally lost and the disciples won’t be.

We who trust in Christ may die but we will never perish (John 3:16). Paul knew he was about to die – “the time of my departure has come” (2 Tim. 4:6) – but he was confident that the Lord “will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18).

Luke 21:19

“By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Your endurance. If they persecute you in one city, flee to the next. See entry for Matt. 10:22.

Luke 21:20

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.

(a) Surrounded by armies. This prophecy, combined with the earlier one about embankments and barricades (see Luke 19:43), provided a startlingly accurate picture of the Roman siege.

When Titus and his four legions and various client armies arrived at Jerusalem, they erected embankments at strategic locations. Later, when it became apparent that the Jews would not surrender, Titus enclosed the city. Using rubble taken from Jerusalem’s outer wall, the Romans linked their embankments in one unbroken wall.

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies.” This was a remarkable prediction. A wall around the entire city of Jerusalem seemed an impossible challenge, yet the Romans pulled it off in three days. As well as cutting off all avenues of escape, the siege wall was meant to shock and awe. Seeing their city sealed off so quickly struck fear into the hearts of the defenders.

(b) Desolation. As a result of the Roman siege of AD70, Jerusalem became an unrecognizable pile of rocks and rubble (see entry for Luke 19:44). Much of the surrounding countryside had been deforested, and suburbs once adorned with trees and pleasant gardens no longer existed. The devastation of the city was so extensive that Josephus said travelers familiar with Jerusalem would no longer recognize it (Wars, 6.1.1). Judea became a wasteland.

Luke 21:21

“Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city;

(a) Those who are in Judea. When you see the Romans marching on Jerusalem, it’s time to run for your lives. See entry for Matt. 24:16.

(b) Flee to the mountains; see entry for Matt. 24:16.

(c) In the city. “Get out of Jerusalem!” Jesus’ warning could not be clearer

(d) In the country. As the Romans tightened their noose, the temptation for the Judeans was to withdraw to the stronghold of Jerusalem. It would’ve seemed the smart to do, but it was the fatal choice. Those inside the city either perished or were enslaved. “Don’t flee to the city; flee to the mountains.”

When the Roman general Titus arrived at Jerusalem in AD70, it was the Feast of Passover. Pilgrims were flooding into the city and Titus permitted them to do so. But he didn’t permit them to leave.

Luke 21:22

because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.

(a) Days of vengeance refers to Roman vengeance, not divine vengeance. God did not punish Jerusalem, the Romans did. Jerusalem had heaped up its sins, but those sins were punished on the cross in AD30 and not in AD70. On the cross the Son of God did away with all sin, including the sins of those who put him there.

For hundreds of years, beginning with men like Josephus, Eusebius, and John Chrysostom, the destruction of Jerusalem and the wholesale slaughter of a million Jews has been framed as divine punishment. The notion of divine punishment is so widely accepted, it even appears in some Bible translations: “This is the time when God will punish Jerusalem” (Luke 21:22, NIrV).

Attributing massacres and genocide to “divine justice” has a long and ignoble history. Josephus said the Jews had it coming, but Paul said the Jews were never beyond hope: “Did God reject his people? By no means! … Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!” (Rom. 11:1, 11). God’s heart, as understood by the apostle of grace, was for reconciliation, not judgment. The Lord desires restoration, not punishment.

Further reading: “Did God kill the Jews in AD70?

(b) Things which are written. Jesus is alluding to prophecies of Jerusalem’s fall.

Centuries before it happened, the prophet Isaiah spoke of siege works and battle towers being raised against Jerusalem (Is. 29:2–4). Long before some Roman put an eagle on a pole, Moses spoke of a faraway nation coming “as the eagle swoops down” (Deu. 28:49–53). The coming siege would be so dire, said Moses, that parents would eat their children. Asaph said the blood would run like water, while Micah predicted that the city would become a heap of ruins (Ps. 79:1–4, Mic. 3:9–12). All these prophecies were fulfilled in AD70.

Luke 21:23

“Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people;

(a) Pregnant; see entry for Matt. 24:19.

(b) Nursing babies; see entry for Matt. 24:19.

(c) Great distress. The fall of Jerusalem in AD70 was unprecedented in horror and magnitude. By first-century standards, the number of deaths was simply mind-boggling. In a city that was home to around 200,000, more than a million people died (Wars, 6.9.3).

Allowing Passover pilgrims into the city added pressure to already-limited food supplies. (The rebel leaders had burned the grain stores just a few weeks earlier.) The resulting famine brought unspeakable misery to those trapped inside. People searched the sewers and dunghills looking for scraps of food, and the houses were full of the dead and dying. More than 600,000 bodies were thrown out of the city gates, and the lanes were filled with bodies. Children with swollen bellies walked among the corpses like shadows until they, too, fell. In desperation, people ate everything. They ate their shoes and gnawed the leather off their shields. They ate hay and even things animals would not touch.

Starvation drove many Jews over the wall, but those caught by the Romans were crucified atop their embankment. This horrific act was meant to frighten the defenders into surrender. It didn’t work. The starving continued to flee because they esteemed death from their enemies, even a brutal death by crucifixion, to be preferable to the slow death of starvation. At one point the Romans were crucifying as many as 500 people per day. There were so many crucifixions that the Romans ran out of wood.

Jesus said, “There will be great and unprecedented distress” and there was. The siege of Jerusalem was genocide on an industrial scale, a first-century holocaust. In words reminiscent of Christ’s prophecy, Josephus said the siege of Jerusalem exceeded all “the misfortunes of men from the beginning of the world” (Wars, preface, 4).

Further reading: AD70 and the End of the World

Luke 21:24

and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

(a) The sword. This is a strange prophecy because barricades (Luke 19:43) and swords don’t usually go together. Yet Jesus said both would be adopted in the siege of Jerusalem.

During the siege of AD70 you had a good chance of starving to death or being killed with a sword. Within the city men with swords plundered homes in search of food, and when the walls fell, the Romans rushed in, killing everyone they could find. They killed and killed, said Josephus, until they grew “tired with killing men.”

(b) Led captive. After the siege of AD70, 97,000 Jews were led away to captivity, some to work the mines in Egypt, others to be killed in provincial circuses. The tall and the beautiful were paraded in Rome as part of Vespasian and Titus’ joint triumph, while those under the age of seventeen were sold as slaves.

(c) Trampled under foot by the Gentiles. When Jesus uttered these words, Jerusalem was very much a Jewish city. But that ended when the Gentile feet of the Romans and their allied armies trampled the city in AD70. From that point on, Jerusalem’s history would be shaped by non-Jewish people.

Jerusalem was destroyed twice by Roman legions (in AD70 and 136) and rebuilt twice by Roman Emperors (Hadrian in 130 and Constantine in 335). It was ruled by more than a dozen Gentile nations including the Byzantines, Persians, Ottomans, Crusaders, Mamluks, along with various Arab Caliphates. In the last century, the city was ruled by the British (1917–1948) and partly ruled by Arabs (1948–1967). For nearly two millennia Jerusalem has been home to Gentiles, or non-Jewish people. If one were to pick a date when the Gentiles first trampled the city with their heathen feet, there would be no better candidate than the summer of AD70.

Luke 21:25

“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves,

(a) Sun, moon, stars. This is idiomatic language, the Jewish equivalent of, “The sky is falling.” See entry for Matt. 24:29.

(b) Dismay among nations describes the bewildered reaction of Rome’s client states to the slaughter of the Jews. “They killed a million people? What might they do to us?” Or it could be a reference to the misery of the relocated Judean captives.

(c) Perplexity at the roaring of the sea. Again, this is figurative, prophetic language. Jesus could be referring to the legions of Rome that would sweep tsunami-like across Galilee and the waves of soldiers soon to crash upon Judea.

Luke 21:26

men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Heavens will be shaken; see entry for Matt. 24:29.

Luke 21:27

“Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory.

Coming in a cloud; see entry for Matt.24:30.

Luke 21:28

“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

(a) These things are the things Jesus has been discussing, namely the great distress and destruction associated with the Roman invasion of Judea.

(b) Lift up your heads. Walk by faith and not by sight. Jesus is saying, “Terrors are coming and the temptation will be to cower in fear. I’m telling you these things in advance so that you will know who’s really in charge. And it’s not the Romans.”

(c) Your redemption is drawing near. “The fulfillment of my prophecies about Jerusalem will be further proof of what I’m telling you now – that I will have come into my kingdom and you are saved.”

Luke 21:29–30

Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near.

As the budding of the tree proves that summer is nigh, so shall the signs Jesus has given prove that the end is nigh, at least as far as Judea is concerned. The unfolding of historical events (wars, earthquakes, armies, then destruction), will be as inevitable as the unfolding of natural events.

Luke 21:31

“So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.

(a) These things; see entry for Luke 21:28.

(b) The kingdom of God is near. In Matthew’s version, it’s the end is near (Matt. 24:33) but Luke writes the kingdom is near. It’s different but the same. It’s the good to balance the bad. “When bad things are happening, and the temptation is to curl up and cry, stand tall because God is on the throne.”

Christ’s words encourage us. In times of great distress, when it seems like the world is going to the dogs, we need to remember that God has not abandoned us. He is near us and with us. In times of upheaval he remains the Rock we can cling to.

Luke 21:32

“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.

(a) Truly, as in listen up and pay attention. This is for real. Your lives depend on you heeding what I have told you.

(b) This generation. Jesus’ prophecy about the great tribulation and the destruction of Jerusalem were not for a future generation; they were for the disciples’ generation. Jesus said the temple would fall within 40 years, or one Biblical generation, and it did.

Luke 21:33

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

(a) Heaven and earth; see entry for Matt.24:35.

(b) My words or my promises. The new covenant, in other words. See entry for Matt.24:35.

Luke 21:34

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap;

(a) Be on guard means take heed or pay attention to your situation. It’s putting first things first. It’s hearing and acting on what Jesus has said. To put it in Biblical terms, it’s repenting (changing your skeptical or undecided mind) and living from the conviction that King Jesus is on the throne.

(b) That day is Judgment Day, which will come at an unexpected time like a thief in the night (1 Th. 5:2) and affect the whole world (see next verse).

Luke 21:35

for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.

It will come upon all. Unlike the destruction of Jerusalem, Judgment Day will affect the whole world.

Luke 21:36

“But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

These things that are about to take place concern the events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. Jesus is contrasting Jerusalem with Judgment Day (see Luke 21:34). The former illuminates the latter. Judgment Day, like the fall of Jerusalem, is something you can prepare for. It is an event for which you can be ready.

Luke 21:37

Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet.

Teaching in the temple. Jesus often taught in the temple (Matt. 26:55, Luke 19:47). He did this because that’s where people congregated (see next verse) and to fulfill the words of the prophet Malachi: “the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple” (Mal. 3:1).

Luke 21:38

And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him.

All the people. Jesus wanted the Jews to hear him, so he went to where they congregated (see John 18:20).

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